Chemists can be classified as the unsung heroes of many key industries — from companies involved in dye, ink, and paint production to lithium-ion battery manufacturing. While the popular conception of a chemist conjures a picture of someone pouring chemicals in isolation in a laboratory, chemists in reality perform a diverse set of tasks, including writing research reports for their teams and testing the quality of product prototypes.
Individuals considering the chemist job outlook can choose from a number of career trajectories. Each one may be a viable option for anyone who has obtained an advanced degree in chemistry.
What Is a Chemist?
Chemists are scientists who study different substances at the atomic or molecular level and analyze how those substances interact. Chemists use their skills and knowledge to create new compounds and develop new products, ranging from medications to household cleaning supplies. They also provide quality control for existing products.
Naturally, a chemist’s job description varies by position and industry, but some of a chemist’s core duties include:
- Planning and carrying out research projects
- Preparing and mixing different compounds in a laboratory setting
- Analyzing substances to ascertain their chemical makeup and concentration of ingredients
- Conducting tests on different materials to determine their safety or edibility
Chemists may work in testing laboratories, chemical manufacturing facilities, and government facilities.
What Is the Job Outlook for a Chemist?
Because their collective work affects nearly everyone on earth via the countless industrial chemicals, packaged consumer goods, energy technologies, and computing devices they help develop, the job outlook for chemists is expected to be quite stable.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment of chemists and material scientists will rise 6% between 2020 and 2030. However, individuals with an advanced degree, such as a master’s or a Ph.D., may be much better positioned for employment than those with only an undergraduate education.
The BLS notes that chemists will be in particularly high demand in the pharmaceutical industry, where their expertise will be relied on to help develop nanotechnology for medicinal purposes. Chemists will also be needed to help improve environmental safety in the chemical manufacturing sector.
Expertise in up-and-coming fields such as nanotechnology will be instrumental in differentiating job seekers. The incentives for attaining such education and specialization are high, with the median annual wage for chemists at $79,430 in 2021, according to the BLS. Chemical engineers ($105,550) and materials engineers ($98,300) earn even more.
Where Can Chemists Work?
Chemists can find meaningful work almost anywhere in the county, but according to BLS data, there are some states where opportunity is more plentiful. The top five states with the highest employment of chemists are:
- California – 9,270
- New Jersey – 7,210
- Pennsylvania – 5,470
- Massachusetts – 4,590
- North Carolina – 4,370
The mean annual wages for chemists in each of these states are also higher than the national average, according to the BLS. Chemists in California, for example, earned a mean annual wage of $85,930 in 2021.
Careers for Chemists
Individuals with a background in chemistry can pursue numerous career paths. The following are some of the most common careers for chemists:
- Agricultural chemists work with farmers and food producers to develop better, more efficient ways to get food products to the marketplace.
- Chemical technicians spend most of their time in laboratories, helping other chemists set up and run different experiments.
- Forensic chemists work in law enforcement, using their chemical background to analyze evidence found at crime scenes.
- Environmental scientists help monitor and preserve the health of different environmental resources, such as water and soil.
- Materials scientists study the properties of substances such as metals, ceramics, and polymers.
- Biochemists study the chemical processes that take place within living organisms.
- Nanochemists use the principles of nanoengineering to understand and control processes at a microscopic level (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter).
How to Become a Chemist
Acquiring deep scientific knowledge is an essential step in becoming a chemist. At a minimum, this means obtaining an undergraduate degree in chemistry, though many chemistry positions require a more advanced degree, such as a master’s or a Ph.D.
Additionally, work experience as an intern or technician in a government or private laboratory can be beneficial. Certain roles, particularly more research-focused positions or those in leadership, may require significant levels of experience.
Take the First Step Toward a Career in Chemistry
The chemist job outlook is promising, with a wide range of career paths to choose from. To prepare for these various professional avenues, a formal education is critical. The University of California, Riverside’s online Master of Science in Engineering program offers a chemical engineering specialization focusing on topics such as advanced chemical engineering thermodynamics, transport phenomena, and advanced kinetics and reactor design.
Find out how UC Riverside can help you open the door to a successful career in chemistry.